Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Michael Palin has lunch with the FT

Michael Palin is this week's guest for Lunch with the FT. This is one of my favorite parts of the Financial Times. The guests are always interesting, and incredibly diverse. The focus of the interview with Palin is almost exclusively on his career as a TV travel guide. The interviewer, Rahul Jacob, the FT's travel editor, admits that he is not familiar with Monty Python because he grew up in Calcutta. This is fine with Palin, who admits to not being fascinated with being treated as a legend. Well, yes, humility is all well and good, and it is well in his past, but his presence in Monty Python is the reason why I am reading this interview, so couldn't we have had just one or two good anecdotes about John Cleese or Eric Idle? Or one line about A Fish Called Wanda?

Of course, he has had plenty of publicity for Python, enough, presumably, for several lifetimes, and who am I to lay down demands for Michael Palin? He deserves credit and publicity for his second career traveling around the world, and that is the focus of this lunch. Amidst the stories of the Dalai Lama and traveling with armed guards in Pakiston is this bit of common sense, which could bear repeating numerous times:
“I’m not pretending there aren’t dangers but I think saying, ‘These are the places we should not go,’ restricts communication and curiosity. I do a lot of talks and people sometimes ask you very earnest questions, ‘What do you know about the world now?’ And, God, I don’t know anything. Whoever said travel is more about questions than answers got it exactly right. I get more confused but the one thing I do feel is less afraid of the world than I would if I didn’t travel.”
It's a truism that the more people meet strangers, the less like strangers they appear. It's also a truism that the more strangers they see doing strange things in the far distance, the stranger they will appear. Modern technology at once brings us closer to people in other countries, and instills fear in us; seeing people from foreign countries up close and personal is very different from seeing them on a TV screen. Palin, most fortunately for us, has resolved this contradiction by using television to bring other countries up close and personal.

Jacob ends the column (which seems to be longer online than in print) with a cliched, but appropriate, sendoff for a comedian.

hearing the jollity prompted by Palin’s goodbyes to the staff at the front of the restaurant, I think that you can’t put a price on that ability to make people laugh.
I can think of a price: I read somewhere that Eric Clapton does not have a knighthood, while Paul McCartney does. I think "Sir Michael" has a nice ring to it.

This interview is also an opportunity for me to post some great hidden gems of Michael Palin that I found on YouTube. The first one is the Pythons receiving some terribly prestigious award from Bafta in 1988. I couldn't embed it, so just go here. Michael Palin has the best line at about 3:30.

This is part 4 (of 5) of a BBC documentary about the making of The Life of Brian. I chose this part because Michael Palin and John Cleese go on a talk show and argue with two prominent Christians (one a bishop) about whether or not the movie was blasphemous. I always knew Michael Palin was smart and funny, but in this video, he's also quite the fighter for freedom of speech. The entire documentary is fascinatnig, but this is particularly good. It's amazing that less than 30 years ago, The Life of Brian was so controversial that it there were protests against it, and that it was even banned in some places.

Long live Michael Palin.

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